June 08, 2005


One of my most truly inspired moments of negotiating came about when I was 17 years old. My parents had just been offered teaching jobs at an international school in Tokyo, and we were having a family pow-wow in the living room because I, having lived my entire life in the Minnesota small town of Harmony, was not all that keen on spending my senior year of high school half a world away from everything that was familiar to me. Obviously, in retrospect, it was one of the best experiences in my life, but at the time, I couldn't see how that could possibly be the case.

Anyway, as we sat there, negotiating terms, I had already scored the promise of my own car come college the next year. That was a good start, but I wanted to hit them where it hurt. I wanted to conjure a demand that would truly make them pause and consider whether all this Tokyo talk was worth it.

"If I go with you, Dad has to quit smoking," I said.

There was a tangible feeling of shock in the room, as if I had settled on a topic no one dared to think I'd even consider addressing. My Dad was a smoker's smoker. The man was at a pack a day, easy, and he'd been at that level for my entire life. I imagine he probably bottle fed me as a baby with a Winston hanging from his lips.

"That's asking quite a lot of your father," my Mom tried to object.

"No," said Dad. "He's right. I should quit."

What transpired after that was over four years of my Dad gradually coming to terms with the ultimatum. You have to understand, my father is a man who operates at an extremely high stress level. Everything he does is, at a minimum, of the utmost importance. Sending him out to buy a gallon of milk is a minor adventure for the man.

So, cigarettes were an important stress-coping mechanism. Now, on the verge of living in a foreign land after over 20 years of the same town and teaching job, here was his son telling him cigarettes were hereafter taboo. He must have thought I was the biggest little prick on the planet. Still, much to my amazement, he acquiesced.

So, my father embarked on a quitting program that was entirely his own, by which I mean he just didn't smoke where any family member could catch him. Upon settling down in our Tokyo apartment, he started running all sorts of unnecessary errands. He'd decide, for example, that we really needed a bottle of Coca-Cola, even if there were already three bottles in the refrigerator. Off he'd go, to the little 7-11 on the corner, and he'd come back smelling faintly of nicotine, and looking decidedly more relaxed then when he left.

My mother and I always knew what he was up to, but we both basically thought it was a little cruel to deny the man a little respite from the uber-stressful reality of assimilating ourselves into an entirely different culture.

Yet, four years later, with Dad still sneaking out to puff his cares away, we all came to the conclusion that it was starting to become a little ridiculous. After all, I had fulfilled my end of the bargain years ago, and my parents had more than adjusted to the Tokyo lifestyle.

So, my father decided that it was time to enlist some help in his quitting crusade, and he found that help in the form of a nicotine patch. And, despite lingering doubts by me and everyone who had known him as a chronic smoker for over two decades, the patch actually started working for him. His unnecessary errands started to cease, and his clothes started to smell less and less like a brush fire.

Finally, after several months of slapping a patch on his shoulder, my father didn't even require that any more. It only took him four years to go cold turkey. And I'm still pretty proud of him.

Not sure why I wrote this, except that Father's Day is on the horizon, and my parents get back from Tokyo for the summer on Friday.

Posted by Ryan at June 8, 2005 12:28 PM

every time i go home to MI (my next annual trip is this weekend) i beg my mom to quit. she smokes those terrible cheap-ass "ultra light" things, and at least a pack a day for the past 30 years. maybe more. i undertand it's a hard habit to break - no doubt about it. what i DON"T like is that i always get a guilt trip in return for my pleas for her to quit: "if you move home, i'll quit smoking".

it's so infuriating i can't even believe it.

Posted by: leblanc at June 8, 2005 01:36 PM

Heh. Leblanc, back when my Dad was deep into the smoking, years before we went to Tokyo, I'd needle him with barbs like "When are you going to quit smoking?" To which he'd tersely reply "When are you going to start minding your own business?" That's when I'd point out that all my clothes smelled like second-hand smoke, and that the paint in the house was tinged yellow due to smoke, so obviously, it IS my business. Then he'd tell me to go outside and stop bothering him. It was like that for years and years.

Posted by: Ryan at June 8, 2005 02:01 PM

My father finally quit smoking the day they told him he had lung cancer. Cold turkey. Never smoked another cigarette in his life. He lived another ten years before the lung cancer finally did get him.

Good on you, Ryan, for addressing a dangerous addiction. And same for you, leblanc. Smoking's not easy to quit but it sure does improve the quality of life for everyone concerned. I've got friends who smoke and I don't hug them hello or anything because the residue of stink that clings to me afterwards makes me nauseous.

Posted by: Johnny Huh? at June 9, 2005 01:48 PM

I would love to quit smoking. I am trying anyway. How's that for a personal trainer? eh.

Posted by: Desult at June 9, 2005 09:50 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!